23 June 2020

Coping with OCD during the Coronavirus (managing intrusive thoughts)

a-mother-and-child-cleaning-the-dishes
Since Coronavirus appeared, it hasn’t just infected every country in the world, it’s impacted our behaviour. Most of us have adjusted to keeping a safe distance, helping the elderly avoid infection and disinfecting shopping. But if you suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), the Coronavirus pandemic adds to the list of anxieties and obsessions you already contend with daily.

Coronavirus and OCD

Lots of people claim they’re “a little OCD” because they like ordered cupboards and a clean home. Although this phrase has been coined for idiosyncrasies, OCD goes far deeper than merely wanting structure. It is a mental health condition which involves controlling your environment to suppress intrusive thoughts and anxieties. You may find yourself counting, tapping, checking and obsessively cleaning to ‘undo’ a bad thought or feeling.

With the UK on COVID-19 lockdown and everyone being cautious, there are more opportunities for your intrusive thoughts to develop. ‘What standard of face mask is the best?’ and ‘Am I secretly trying to harm the health of others?’ are examples of how Coronavirus related thoughts could begin to bother you.

There’s a lot of information available on the pandemic, including government guidance on handwashing and how the virus spreads. Since hand washing is a compulsive behaviour, life could become more challenging during this pandemic. You may find yourself disinfecting your home more often, checking in on your family and loved ones repeatedly to ensure they’re not infected or going through a more elaborate routine to leave the house.

Managing intrusive thoughts during lockdown

Intrusive thoughts can cause unbearable anxiety. If you suffer from this OCD, you will be tempted to manage your intrusive thoughts with rituals. But with Coronavirus on our streets, compulsions around shopping habits or time outside are severely curtailed.

Remember that the advice from professionals and the government is a 20-second hand wash – this is enough to kill the virus. If you feel tempted to wash your hands for longer, remind yourself that this is the scientific advice and Coronavirus will not survive on a clean surface.

How to deal with the anxiety

Fear of coming into contact with Coronavirus and contracting COVID-19 may trouble you more than most, and you may feel responsible for acts out of your control. Compulsions and rituals make the world feel ordered and can quell anxiety for a little while, but they’re not a long-term answer.

We are all feeling the strain and damage from COVID-19, so now is the time to be kind to yourself. Disengage from the news about the COVID-19 pandemic when you feel intrusive thoughts arising and distract yourself by meditating, reading, or learning a new skill online. Reach out to family and friends for reassurance when Coronavirus feels overwhelming.

If you feel the need to wash your hands or wipe surfaces more than the recommended guidelines, write your thoughts down and how intense the craving is. Read back over your notes each day and assess whether anything terrible happened as a result of ignoring the thought; we guarantee the guidelines are enough to keep you safe.

When to seek professional help

Although fear of the virus spreading may cause you to engage in more routines. Being in lockdown is an ideal time to reflect on whether your compulsions are affecting your life. If you find that you are frightened to leave the house, struggling to interact with others or you are doing routines for more than an hour each day, then your OCD is preventing you from dealing with anxiety.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) studies show that 75% of people find it to be a significant help. You can also talk to online therapists or join forums online to speak out to those with similar experiences during the pandemic.

If you are concerned that your behaviour or thoughts push you towards reaching for medication or alcohol to block out the noise, then you can call us for free and friendly advice.

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Our patients’ health takes priority during the COVID-19 pandemic and our doors remain open. To read about our commitment to patient and staff safety and how to keep yourself safe during the lockdown, click here!